Discoveries from the Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival

By
Curtis Woloschuk

Anyone seeking confirmation that geek culture continues to flourish in 2014 needn't look at the heady box office projections for X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or whatever else is in the Hollywood pipeline of proven commodities. Far more compelling evidence can be found in the form of 800 genre enthusiasts casting their lot with the furthest thing from sure bets: short films.

A collaboration between the Seattle International Film Festival and the EMP Science Fiction Museum, the Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival is a one-day, two-session showcase of 20 films (mostly originating from North America). And while the Seattle Cinerama's spectacular 70-foot screen and charming vintage 60s fixtures are always something to behold, it's the attendees that are the theatre's most impressive feature on this occasion.

With the city's beloved Seahawks playing a critical NFL playoff game and a miserable storm cutting a swath through power lines and tree limbs outside, the audience's enthusiasm is undiminished and attention undivided. Furthermore, SFFSFF seemingly functions as an informal summit for various communities and subcultures, allowing Sweet Lolitas to rub frilly shoulders with fiftysomethings discussing the epic fantasy novels they're writing.

It's all the clearer that unconditional acceptance is the order of the day when the trailer for the long-delayed LARP spoof Knights of Badassdom is met with significantly more laughter than it's earned on its own merits. Admittedly, there'll be other points when such tolerance will prove a virtue. However, the festival's programmers have also struck geek gold on at least a half-dozen occasions.

David Braun and Victor Sala's Robota is a deliriously amusing bit of spacecraft-bound surrealism. Featuring a hapless robot (that's jerry-rigged construction is indicative of the DIY ingenuity that graces many of the shorts) and a sullen woman experiencing stop motion dream sequences, it recalls both The American Astronaut and Jan Švankmajer but succeeds thanks to absurdist tendencies all its own.

With Louder, Please, writer-director Lena Tsodykovskaya affectingly examines how the very idea of telepathy might leave a socially awkward individual even more isolated. She doesn't quite land the finish but still earns full marks for the idea that someone would devote their every waking thought to mathematics in order to dissuade curiosity seekers from encroaching on their inner world.

Sharing Louder's dreary palette and tone, Adam Grabarnick's North Bay likewise centres on a loner. In this case, it's an obsessive researcher who's convinced that sound waves can be converted into solid matter. Conveying sophisticated concepts with ease and creating an immersive world through attention to key details, Grabarnick ratchets up the tension and delivers one hell of a payoff.

Honeymoon Suite marks a ballsy example of biting the hand that feeds. Given funding and creative freedom by a Beijing boutique hotel to make a film featuring the property, Zao Wang delivers a sleek, sensuous tale of a ferocious supernatural guest having its every whim catered to by a comically docile staff. (Clearly no subtext there.)

Aaron Beckum's Night Giant is every bit as aesthetically assured but is driven by its own idiosyncratic humour and rhythms. Wearing its '50s and '60s influences on its well-tailored sleeve, it's a deadpan tale to astonish about an oppressed milquetoast working up the nerve to throw down with his monolithic tormentor. Fighting words don't come any funnier than, “Night giant... What's your deal?”

Finally, the absolutely gonzo The Magic Salmon catches you completely unaware, in part because you hadn't a clue such dizzying confections existed. Handcrafted and shot on a Bolex camera in director Andrew Struthers' apartment, it's a fever dream involving deep sea diving, talking fish and dancing skeletons. Just one enthralling chapter in an ongoing serial, it leaves you desperate to track down whatever else the filmmaker has done and eager to see what he comes up with next.

Previous instalment – The Big Tree 

Follow Curtis on Twitter: @CurtisWoloschuk
 

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